Politically driven movies are usually a hit at the Academy Awards, but this year’s films faced their fair share of controversy en route to the big night. From factual errors to misconceptions, let’s take a look at the controversy that plagued this year’s Best Picture nominees.
1. American Sniper
American Sniper is up for six Oscars, including best picture and best actor for Bradley Cooper. The film is based on the best-selling book of the same name by Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, the most lethal sharpshooter in history. Kyle, who died in 2013, has been at the center of debate. Critics say the film romanticizes a man who talked disparagingly (calling them “savage” and “despicable”) about the Iraqis he killed and depicts him as being in turmoil over his actions in the war, while his book contains more bragging than remorse. In American Sniper, Kyle wrote, “I only wish I had killed more,” and “I loved what I did. I still do. If circumstances were different – if my family didn’t need me – I’d be back in a heartbeat. I’m not lying or exaggerating to say it was fun. I had the time of my life being a SEAL.” Kyle’s book has been criticized for containing several lies, one of which he was successfully sued over.
Selma is one of those movies it’s amazing that it hadn’t been made yet. Martin Luther King, Jr. was such an influential man in history that it’s shocking he hadn’t been the focus of a film of this caliber sooner. But critics of the film say that Dr. King received too much credit. The Washington Post took to point out this inaccuracy, saying that “the film falsely portrays President Lyndon B. Johnson as being at odds with Martin Luther King Jr. and even using the FBI to discredit him, as only reluctantly behind the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and as opposed to the Selma march itself.” The Post writes that “Selma was LBJ’s idea, he considered the Voting Rights Act his greatest legislative achievement, he viewed King as an essential partner in getting it enacted — and he didn’t use the FBI to disparage him.”
Appearing on The Daily Show, director Ava DuVernay said she was “baffled” by the criticism that LBJ wasn’t presented as enough of a hero in the film, saying she saw people cheer for him at the end of the film. “The bottom line is we don’t paint anyone as a saint in this; we don’t paint anyone as a sinner,” she said to Jon Stewart.
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson’s film is set in the late 1930s in the fictional European country of Zubrowka on the eve of World War II. Its controversy comes in the way it portrays the dark characters of that era. Mother Jones notes that “the terms ‘Nazi,’ ‘World War II,’ and ‘Holocaust’ are never uttered. But the fictionalized context and references are obvious.” The Nazi iconography is reworked into something that resembles classic Nazi symbols but fits into Anderson’s style. While portraying such horrific characters in history in a way that fits the whimsical nature of a Wes Anderson film is questionable, Mother Jones suggests, “It’s a deceptively cute rendition of fascist occupation — darling but also intelligent, playful but not disrespectful to the victims of the real thing.”
4. The Imitation Game
The controversy surrounding The Imitation Game, a film which tells the story of computing genius Alan Turing during World War II, has more to do with the Oscar campaign than the actual film. The Daily Beast called out the Human Rights Campaign for campaigning for the film by placing a full-page ad in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. While the fact that HRC president Chad Griffin and Harvey Weinstein, whose Weinstein Company produced The Imitation Game, are calling for the pardon of the 49,000 other men prosecuted for being gay is noble, the publication critiqued the fact that the Human Rights Campaign had joined the Oscar campaign for a film that “far from a brave movie in any way when it comes to Turing’s personal life; it backtracks on his sexuality.” It criticized the campaign, saying that wearing “its gay pride badge to get liberals on side for Oscars votes is laughable and ludicrous.”